Tuesday, April 15, 2014

More Backyard Birds

 We've been continuing on our Backyard Bird Challenge, and things are starting to pick up as the trees leaf out, the weather warms, flowers bloom, and insects emerge. Turkey vultures have made their usual spring appearance. In the photo above, one is drying its wings before taking to the thermals later in the day. We get a big group in our trees every spring and fall.

I heard the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker and tracked down this Northern Flicker. We have one that regularly visits the yard. Numerous holes in the house also testify to the fact of their frequent presence. My husband still laments that I threw out all the metal coffee lids when we moved in, as his grandmother had saved those to patch the woodpecker holes.

Although I don't like the Eurasian collared doves because they're non-native, they live in our yard, so I've gotten to know them better. I hardly every see mourning doves anymore because the collared doves have taken over some of their territory.

Another non-native inhabitant is the European Starling. It's feathers shimmer in the sunlight.

Fortunately we do have lots of non-native birds swing by. This American Kestrel is a beauty. Often we have a pair hang out through the summer, and I hope we do again this year.

Outside the yard but nearby we've seen red-winged blackbirds, curlews, and barn swallows. We hope we'll be able to add them to our list soon.

We're also trying to encourage birds to stay in our yard, by putting up two birdhouses that kids made. Desert Boy especially liked that he got to chose a spot, which was up in a tree.

We'll see if the birds agree with his choice!
I hope you've been seeing some fun birds lately. I have been paying a lot more attention this year, and it makes it easy to spot something that is out of the normal.

Happy birding!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sand Springs, near Kanab, Utah

 On our way to and from the South Fork Indian Canyon Pictographs, near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, we passed a huge hill of sand. This was the northeast side of the sand dunes, a place called Sand Springs. No one was there, and on our way back from the pictographs, we stopped to play in the sand. Desert Boy was the first to leave some tracks up the big hill.

 Old tracks had been blown over. It was quite a steep hill, steep enough that it was easier to go up on all fours than walking.

But once you got to the top, the fun began: running and jumping down the dune.

Desert Boy went really fast, leaping, and bounding.

I guess he went a little too fast!
 Fortunately he was fine and repeated his running down the dunes many more times (with just one more face plant).

To access Sand Springs, you turn off the Hancock Road, which connects US89 near Kanab, Utah to Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and take a 4WD road a couple of miles. The turnoff is not marked, but does have a stop sign. The 4WD road has one part that is really deep sand, right below the big play area. It's best to go fast through here.

The spring of Sand Springs still runs. It's to the north of the big sand hill where the corral is located. The spring has been improved so water runs into a trough all the time.

The kids continued to climb and run while I looked at the spring. At the beginning the hill had no fresh tracks. At the end, it was covered with tracks. I'd say we got our exercise!

The joys of a sand dune! We managed to take home just a little sand with us.
If you have the right vehicle to get to this spot, I highly recommend it. We were lucky not to have anyone else there during the hour we were there, and it was so much fun to have a big dune all to ourselves. Camping is available in the same area, but it's primitive so you need to bring everything.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

South Fork Indian Canyon Pictographs

 So on our awesome trip to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, it was getting a little loud one afternoon with ATV traffic, so we decided to go on a little adventure. Plus I'm not very good at sitting still for long. And I had done a little research beforehand, and found out that there were some nearby pictographs, and that sounded cool.

I loaded up the kids, and we drove about 10 miles on the highway, then turned off on a 4WD road that was very sandy. The park ranger at the dunes had circled the spot on the map where most people get stuck and told me to just 'gun it' through that area, so that's what we did. It's right before the Sand Springs area (which is super cool and will be the subject of the next post). We were basically driving on the northeast side of the sand dunes, and it was very remote compared to the other side.

Eventually we got to the sign pictured above, and the lone tracks that had preceded continued on straight, while we made the turn onto a road that hadn't been traveled for awhile. The ranger had warned that the road was a "Utah striper," meaning that the shrubs were close enough they scratched your vehicle. Fortunately our 4WD truck isn't too pretty and already has lots of scratches, so it was okay. At the end of a fun 2-mile long road with lots of twists and turns and banked curves, we reached this sign:
 It said the hike was 1.5 miles round trip. Perfect, my kids can do that. But then I read the next line: elevation change: 1700 feet. What? 1700 feet is like a mountain. I knew the kids could go down, but I wasn't so sure about up, especially Desert Girl. But we were there, and we couldn't just leave without giving it a try, so we packed lots of snacks and water and I packed the Beco carrier for Desert Girl, just in case I would have to carry her. Then I tried not to think too far ahead and just live in the moment.

The hike started out with just a gentle downhill. I had kept looking for the canyon as we drove, as I'm used to living in the Basin and Range, where you drive to a mountain range to enter a canyon. Out in southern Utah, you start out on the mesa and the canyons drop away from the land.

Before long the trail got steeper. It even had switchbacks, which the kids love.

I saw several flowers and had to photograph them. This purple one is probably an Arabis in the Mustard Family.

As we continued, we walked over more and more Navajo sandstone.

The kids couldn't resist doing some extra climbing.

Then we got to the part of the trail that my husband would have hated: on the side of a cliff with a long fall and nothing but a flimsy fence to keep you from pitching over.
 It didn't seem too bad to us.

We found some cool places along the trail.

And if Desert Boy does it, Desert Girl has to also.

A game of hide-n-seek developed.

 And then, suddenly, we were there. We weren't at the bottom of the box canyon, we were part way up the canyon wall, next to maple trees, and then suddenly an alcove appeared with a fence and boardwalk and sign.

The kids spent less than a minute looking at the pictographs and then promptly found some nice sand to play in.

I took my time taking photographs (so at least they'll see what they ignored some day!).

There was a sign saying that there had been some recent vandalism, and I had read earlier that there had been some older vandalism, so I wasn't entirely sure of what I was looking at. This pictograph looked authentic, though, like one the Basketmaker people would have painted 2,000 years ago (wow, that's old!).

As I looked closer, the newer vandalism, done in pencil, became very obvious, and the way it was done, I was guessing ignorant teenage boys who think adding body parts to figures is funny. Stupid.

Then it was time to head back up. It sure didn't seem like we had come down 1700 feet. In fact, we had only hiked half an hour from the trailhead to the pictographs. On the way up we took rest breaks whenever the kids wanted, and they found some different holes to climb in.
 Bubblegum was a special treat for the trip, and we got a lot of mileage out of it!

Desert Girl also started singing, and once she starts, she doesn't stop!
It took us 40 minutes to hike back up at a relaxed place, and it turned out the elevation change for the hike was only 170 feet. Somehow an extra 0 got added to the sign.

The hike was lots of fun, and the pictographs were a great bonus. The last people to sign into the trail log had been there two days previous, so we had it all to ourselves. It was really peaceful and a perfect afternoon outing in the spring.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A New Addition to Our Family

 A couple years ago I went into the Ace Hardware store and was bewitched by the sound of chirping chicks. I wanted to take some home with me immediately, but common sense eventually prevailed and I knew I wasn't ready. Last year we decided to wait one more year. All winter long we were waiting for the moment to get chicks, and it has finally come! We now have Chris, Martin, and Luna, joining us.

The kids are mainly in charge of feeding them and giving them clean water. We've been surprised just how much these tiny creatures eat.

Right now they're living in our laundry room, but it won't be too long before they transition outside.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fifteen Things To Do at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is full of activities for the whole family! This great place is between Zion National Park and Kanab, Utah. I had seen the turnoff to it before, but had always been in a hurry. Finally we decided to plan a four-day, three-night vacation centered on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. That was a great plan, as there was so much to do.

1. Play. This is one of the biggest sand boxes around! 

2. Sled down the sand dunes. We had some snow that made sledding down the dunes even easier, but you can use sleds anytime. The state park as well as area businesses even rent out sand sleds and and sand boards for an even smoother ride. 

3. Junior ranger program. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes junior ranger program is lots of fun, with a booklet of activities and picking up trash earning the kids cool badges.

4. Look for tracks. Many animals that live in the dunes are nocturnal, so it might be hard to see them. But it's not hard to see their tracks the next morning--or other tracks, like plants that the wind has blown.

5. Photography. Photographers will have a field day at the dunes--so many colors, textures, and patterns! Here are four photos of the dunes from the overlook, just a short walk from the parking lot. You can see how different the dunes look even though it's nearly the same shot, without any editing.
Early morning with snow
Just after sunset
About 8 am with a little frost
About 5 pm

6. Geocaching. We've recently discovered the fun of geocaching and were happily surprised to find that one of the geocaches on our list was an Official DNR Geocache

7. Look for tiger beetle. Coral Pink Sand Dunes has its very own tiger beetle, found only in the dunes and nowhere else in the world. It's best seen on warm afternoons from April through June. We didn't see one in person, but we did see a beautiful example in the visitor center. We also read the Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle brochure.

8. Look for ponderosa pines. Seeing ponderosa pines scattered in the sand dunes came as quite a surprise. Apparently they've been able to do well, as they are numerous. Some have been dated, and the state park has a fun challenge: Locate selected ponderosa pines using your GPS and find a sign at the bottom telling about what was going on in the year the tree started growing. You can pick up a brochure in the visitor center or download it here.

9. Run down (or roll down) the sand dunes. This is an easy and free activity, especially fun for kids! Did I mention that the state park has hot showers? And Kanab has a wonderful swimming pool in the summer.

10. Nature trail. The state park has a half-mile nature trail that gives a great introduction of what lives on part of the dunes and the adaptations they make to live in such a harsh place. The nature trail is a non-motorized part of the state park, as is the conservation area a bit to the north. Also, no ATVs are allowed on the dunes until 9 am, so it's nice and quiet for sunrise.

11. Bike ride.  The extremely slow speed limit and gentle terrain in the state park makes it a good place for kids to bike ride. 

12. Camp and/or picnic. The campground has 22 campsites, most of which are reservable in advance. But even if the website says they are all full (like it did for us), you may still be able to get a spot (like we did). There's also the nearby Ponderosa Grove campground, Sand Springs campground (4WD access), and dispersed camping on BLM land. The state park has several picnic tables near the nature trail.

13. Check out the visitor center. The visitor center, located right at the park entrance, has a cool exhibit of sands from around the world. There's also a snake and a few other things to look at. The best resource is the park ranger, who can answer questions about all sorts of topics.

14. ATVs  The sand dunes have long attracted all-terrain vehicles (or OHVs - off-highway vehicles). While we didn't bring any, if we went back we would consider renting them. It looked like so much fun to take a dune buggy, 4-wheeler, or dirt bike out on the dunes. And ATVs are one of the main reasons that the area was set aside as a state park. ATVs are allowed on the dunes from 9 am to 10 pm and can get noisy, so if you want quiet, try the off-season (late fall to early spring), the dunes on a moonlit night, or sunrises.

15. Visit nearby attractions.
Besides Zion National Park and Kanab, you might also want to check out the Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Trackway and South Fork Indian Canyon Pictograph Site

Coral Pink Sand Dunes are a great place for either a relaxing or an exciting vacation. For more information, check out the Coral Pink Sand Dunes website.
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